There aren’t many hikes in South Africa where you stand a good chance of seeing snow. Except perhaps the hiking trails to the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment. Winter is the time to make your pilgrimage in search of the white stuff.
Hard-core hikers can tackle strenuous passes like Giant’s Castle and Cleft Peak but by far the easiest hiking route to the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment is from the Sentinel car park near Phuthaditjhaba (formerly Witsieshoek) in the Free State.
The Sentinel Peak Reserve is now managed by Witsieshoek Mountain Resort, so if you are in a sedan and the road from the resort to the trailhead is in bad condition you can leave your car there and organise a lift for the last seven kilometres. From the car park, the trail follows a well-maintained but, at times, steep and rocky path past the daunting bulk of the Sentinel to the foot of the chain ladders. Although only 30 metres or so in length, the two parallel sets of double ladders are quite intimidating but they’re the key to reaching the top of the plateau.
Once on top it’s a short walk to the head of the Tugela Falls, where the river drops into the gorge below. The views across the Amphitheatre to the Devil’s Tooth are mind-blowing, and if you’re fortunate enough to have snow, you can spend a happy hour or so building snowmen before returning the way you came.
This is a serious mountain outing at any time of year, so check the forecast, sign the mountain register and go prepared for all conditions. Local guides can be hired at Witsieshoek. Guided day hiking trails and multi-day hikes are offered here and elsewhere in the Drakensberg.